Horses for Courses in Financial Education: Universities Are Now Offering a Dazzling Array of Financial Education Choices. These Include Online Learning, Weekend Courses and Offshore Campuses

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Shamus Cassar lives in Adelaide and is completing his Master of Applied Finance online via Charles Sturt University in NSW. Next year he hopes to start a Master of Accountancy or an MBA in accounting and commercial law, again at CSU and also online.

After completing a law degree in Canada and then setting up a business in financial and legal advice in Ho Chi Minh City, "Diana" undertook part-time Masters study through Macquarie University's Master of Applied Finance program. For those two years she flew from Vietnam to Hong Kong each time for scheduled classes.

Shamus and Diana's learning experiences are quite different but they reflect the diversity of what's on offer.

Charles Sturt offers online learning for all its courses in the Faculty of Commerce. In contrast, Macquarie University's Professor Bill Norton says online learning will never replace face-to-face teaching.

Deakin University plans extending its online technology next yean The University of Western Sydney has some materials on-line but Professor Tom Valentine believes students, if given a choice, prefer face-to-face teaching.

New Zealand's Victoria University of Wellington does not offer fully online courses, preferring physical sessions in intensive block-release mode, which has seen some busy Australians and Indonesians fly in and out of NZ just for these study blocks.

Online learning is certainly a divisive issue, but the method certainly has its fans. Take Cassar, the part-time Adelaide student studying online via a NSW-based university, who also works full time as a product and risk manager with Elders Rural Bank in South Australia.

Then there are others who believe online learning will never replace face-to-face teaching, but just complement it, such as Macquarie University's Professor Bill Norton. Norton recalls a former Chinese student who flew thousands of kilometres for intensive blocks of face-to-face classroom teaching.

But one thing is agreed on: more students now than ever have computer access. As Norton, Director of Macquarie's Applied Finance Centre, says: "About ten years ago only about half a dozen people in a class had emails, now just about everyone does."

More part-time postgraduate students like Cassar not only use their computers all the time, but also work longer hours and have hectic home lives. As well as studying, Cassar is engaged and planning a wedding, as well as building a house.

"They (students) need a course that offers them the flexibility to study whenever they feel like it and have the time," he says. "As technology improves, the take up of online study should also increase."

"With the increasing level of cable access to the internet and new generations of students with greater levels of computer skills coming through the system, I think distance education could eventually be the primary way of learning in tertiary studies for a number of courses."

Online learning, favoured by Cassar, is obviously not for everyone. But for those who do want to head down that path, or at least take some steps in that direction, there are plenty of choices.

At some universities, finance students can complete their assignments and exams electronically, study guides and subject outlines are provided online and web-based forums allow students to interact with each other and their lecturer.

Some universities, such as Deakin in Victoria which adopted network based technology for teaching and learning some ten years ago, have improved on that and are now offering new online developments.

Deakin's lecturer in finance, Russell Vinning says that last year the university conducted an extensive analysis and review of its requirements for an online learning management system, achieved through the use of focus groups and widely publicised student and staff surveys.

He says a new learning management system was identified and this year Deakin has been conducting numerous trial projects, professional development and gathering important feedback. …